I’m sure I’ve talked plenty before about how exciting the comics scene in Glasgow, Scotland is. As the writer of The Standard, I like to claim a kind of weird dual citizenship, where on the one hand I will proudly include myself as part of the ComixTribe family, and talk about what an honor it is to have a fraternity with the quality American comics under that banner. But at the same time, I also like to claim that The Standard is part of a diverse, exciting lineup of indy and small press comics emerging from Glasgow. From School of the Damned to Villainous to Team Girl Comic to No More Heroes, and so much more in between, the home of such comics greats as Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely and Mark Millar has no shortage of promising talent.
And that brings us to Taking Flight, a comic book oneshot that sees a union of two such Glaswegian up-and-comers. The writer is Stephen Sutherland, a new face at the city centre’s Glasgow League of Writers meetings who is making his debut with Taking Flight. The artist is Garry McLaughlin, who is well known in the local scene both for his DIY Comics workshops and 24 Hour Comic Book Day events, and for drawing such comics as Old Folk’s Home and Good Cop, Bad Cop. Knowing both talents as I do, Taking Flight is a collaboration I’ve been keenly anticipating for a while now. Does it live up to expectations?
I think I’ll start with the contribution of Garry McLaughlin, given that he was more of a known commodity going into Taking Flight, and already earned some critical plaudits for his earlier work. It’s interesting to see the evolution in McLaughlin’s style. I’ve seen Frank Quitely comparisons thrown thick and fast in previous evaluations of his work, and I’m sure plenty of artists would be happy to carve out a career as a “Quitely-type”. Not so for Garry McLaughlin. With Taking Flight, there is a move away fom that Quitely vibe as McLaughlin works to develop his own artistic voice. His style here is tighter, with meticulous attention to scenery and the establishing of location. The story is set in Glasgow, and despite no indicating landmarks, somehow the setting just feels specifically like Glasgow. His characters are heavily stylised, but McLaughlin still makes skillful use of body language to hammer home the emotional requirements of the narrative. McLaughlin is also the letterer of the comic, and his contribution in this regard is largely flawless… save for one embarrassing slip-up in the inside back cover afterword where he spells his own name wrong!
McLaughlin’s art is ably assisted by colorist Kieren Smith. It’s interesting, for with all the talk of Garry McLaughlin often being compared to Frank Quitely, Smith’s colors remind me of the slick work of Jamie Grant, Quitely’s collaborator on All Star Superman. And speaking of Superman, the coloring ensures that his shadow hangs over this story, with flickers of red and blue peppered throughout. I love it when the coloring is used to enhance the story being told in its own way, rather than just to fill in the artwork with whatever colour will do.
The other half of the equation is that of Stephen Sutherland. As much as McLaughlin has proven himself, Sutherland is a bit of a wild card, even amongst afficionados of Glasgow’s small press comics. But there’s no need to worry. As it turns out, Sutherland is Taking Flight‘s secret weapon, delivering a story that’s filled with heart. The twist on the superhero is a clever one, and oddly believable too. This is a world where superheroes exist, but are hampered by today’s suffocating health and safety/compensation culture, too afraid of lawsuits and criminal damage claims to help the ungrateful sods who will then turn around and sue them.
But this isn’t a story of plot and ideas, of immersing us in a wider world of superheroics. It is, at its core, a very personal, character-driven story, as we follow the trials of one man, Michael, and his struggles to find his way in life. The story soars by tapping into his emotions, and making them our own. We can relate to the stifling frustration he feels at being unable to cut loose with his powers. And when he does let go, the comic soars, concisely capturing the magic of flight, how breathtaking and exhilarating that would be. Perhaps my favourite part of the comic is Michael’s relationship with his girlfriend, Rosie. It would be so easy for a writer to mine that relationship for conflict, to have Rosie be unaccepting of Michael’s powers and have a ready-made arc where she sees the error in her ways. But Sutherland bravely makes her absolutely supportive and loving, and makes her Michael’s strength, the voice pushing him to better himself. This is a real skill for Sutherland, I think, as in his scripts for an upcoming project of his, Everlast, he similarly depicts a positive father/daughter relationship. There’s an openness and an optimism to this approach that’s really refreshing.
So, all told, I’d call Taking Flight a success. For Stephen Sutherland, it is an incredibly promising debut, and for Garry McLaughlin, it marks a transition into more mature, substantial work. I’m eager to see more from both.
Taking Flight is available to buy from eBay.